Funny But Dark
Faith Harding likes to challenge the status quo. That’s why she chose to direct Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike for Kauai Community Players’ second production of the season.
“As an artist, no matter what your art form or whatever outlet you’re using, that’s what art does,” she says. “It’s supposed to make you think differently, make you look at things differently, challenge your beliefs, maybe even open your mind up into new ways of thinking and believing.”
The show opened last weekend and runs Friday and Saturday (Feb. 19 and 20) at 7 p.m., Sunday (Feb. 21) at 4 p.m., Feb. 26 and Feb. 27 at 7 p.m., and Feb. 28 at 4 p.m. in Puhi Theatrical Warehouse.
The play, written by Christopher Durang, is a comedy centered on the relationship among three middle-aged siblings. Brother and sister Vanya and Sonia are living together when their movie-star sister Masha shows up with her “boy toy” Spike and invites everyone to attend a costume party (thus, the Disney-themed attire). Harding was captivated when she first read the script and knew it was something that could be appreciated on Kauai.
“Everything is so youth-oriented,” she says. “I’m middle-aged, a lot of people who come to see shows are middle-aged, so I thought, ‘Let’s do something with some middle-aged folks,’ you know?”
It doesn’t hurt that the play has been touted as “hilarious.”
“You will laugh out loud no matter what your age is,” Harding says. “There’s something in the show everyone can relate to.”
Assistant director Jim War-rack agrees.
“It’s the funniest play I’ve read in a long time,” he says.
The storyline has plenty of modern-day themes — technology, siblings and finances are just a few of the issues dealt with by the characters, “which can be very funny but also very dark,” says Harding.
Bridging the gap between generations also is something Durang explores here, and the play asks whether people of all ages can identify with each other.
“Even in his cynicism, Du-rang says yes to that,” notes Harding.
Ultimately, the play has twists and turns that, just when the audience thinks they’ve “got it,” they realize they don’t.
“Because what ends up happening underneath all the sarcasm and cynicism, underneath all of it is really some heart and some hope,” says Harding. “Durang exposes all the nasty bits, the blood and the guts — the good, bad and the ugly — and in the end, gives you some heart and hope to go home with.”
Harding enjoys directing shows people can relate to.
“Art imitates life, life imitates art; theatre is the perfect example of that,” she says.
The first KCP play she directed was True West by Sam Shepard. The plot spotlights the relationship between two estranged brothers, one a writer, the other a criminal — another relatable story that at the same time pushes the envelope. This not only was Harding’s first time directing a play on the island, but also Warrack’s first time acting on the stage.
“He’s a natural,” says Harding of Warrack. “Some people have a natural ability.”
In fact, Harding tends to choose actors and actresses for her plays who might not otherwise be considered.
“I’ve always had new people on the stage in every one of my shows. It just kind of happens,” says Harding, who also directed KCP’s 2014 production of Closer. “It’s refreshing. Not to belittle anyone else, but it’s always nice to see new faces, it’s always nice to have new blood on the stage.”
Though the upcoming show is Harding’s third time charming audiences as a director on Kauai, she’s no stranger to theatre. Ever since she was a child she’s been practicing her acting chops, including performing shows with siblings for her parents and family friends. By seventh grade, Harding, who was born in New Hampshire but lived in many places while growing up, was performing in school productions.
For years she played various roles in several productions, and eventually sat in the director’s chair for one titled Rope (also an Alfred Hitchcock movie).
“I totally dug it,” she says, regarding her directing debut. “Trying to motivate or create a particular scene from the page to what you see as an audience member — to me, that’s very fulfilling.”
That’s the same sentiment Harding, who moved to Kauai 13 years ago and continues to act in local productions, carries forth with Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.
“I enjoy watching them (the actors) and enjoy watching it (the play) come to life,” she says.
Visit kauaicommunityplayers.org to purchase tickets or for more information.